The Trumps visit Texas amid ‘epic’ rainfall
Heavy rains continue to raise water levels
• Donald Trump headed to Texas to confront the first major natural disaster — and biggest test yet — of his presidency as officials struggled to manage an unprecedented deluge delivered by Hurricane Harvey.
The mammoth storm dropped an estimated 57 trillion litres of rain, bringing catastrophic consequences to Houston, America’s fourth biggest city where 6.8 million people live.
More than 3,500 people were rescued by police, firefighters and National Guard troops as boat and helicopter searches continued.
Appearing at an emergency briefing at a fire station in nearby Corpus Christi, Trump, wearing a “USA” baseball hat, said, “This was of epic proportions, nobody’s ever seen anything like this. This is a special place, a special state.”
He added, “It’s historic, it’s epic, but I tell you, it happened in Texas and Texas can handle anything.”
Addressing first responders, he said, “We want to do it better than ever before. We want to be looked at in five years, in 10 years from now, as this is the way to do it. I won’t say congratulations. We’ll congratulate each other when it’s all finished.”
Trump later climbed a fire engine ladder to address a crowd and held aloft a Texan flag.
Greg Abbott, the Republican governor of Texas, said Trump was “a champion of Texas and a champion of helping us rebuild.”
Damage was already estimated to be in the billions of dollars and rebuilding is expected to last beyond Trump’s current four-year term.
Around 17,000 people were in shelters, including 9,000 in a Houston convention centre intended to hold half as many.
Hundreds of roads were blocked by high water, Houston’s two main airports were shut and 6,000 prison inmates were evacuated.
The official death toll of 15 was expected to rise.
Art Acevedo, Houston’s police chief, said, “I’m really worried about how many bodies we’re going to find.”
Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner confirmed that police Sgt. Steve Perez had died after he became trapped in his patrol car as he was driving to work.
The Houston Chronicle reported that the 30-year officer was heading to work Sunday when he became trapped in high water on Interstate 45 in north Harris County and then couldn’t get himself out of his car.
Virginia Saldivar said she lost six members of her family, including four siblings aged six to 16, as they tried to escape in a van.
She said the children, Daisy, Xavier, Dominic and Devy, died along with two other adult relatives.
Houston’s Office for Emergency Management was unable to confirm the presumed deaths.
People have been forced to escape the flooding in any way they can.
Angela Sanchez, 34, said she and her husband floated their three children to safety in a fridge-freezer as the waters reached chest height.
She said, “We ripped the door off the fridge and put the kids in it.”
Her daughter Valencia, 16, added, “When we finally left, my sister sat in the freezer part, my brother sat in the fridge part, and I sat in the middle.”
The family were forced to leave two of their dogs behind. Sanchez said, “We put them on high ground and dumped all the food from the fridge out next to them so they could eat.”
At the convention centre, Iashia Nelson said she had been a victim of both Harvey and Hurricane Katrina in 2005, after moving from Louisiana to Texas. She told CNN, “It took us 15 hours to get out of there from all that water.
“There were six families in the house. There was a window pane and I busted it with a hammer. I got the children out and we were on the roof. I was so scared. One girl I knew drowned and she left behind two babies. It brought back all the memories (of Katrina).”
The Cajun navy, a grassroots group formed after Katrina, used their boats to rescue people in Houston.
Flint Theriot, of the group, described rescuing a family including a three-day old baby. “The rain was filling our boats out so hard we couldn’t bail them out. It was rough. People were getting really desperate,” he said.
A Pentagon official said the military’s contribution to Harvey rescue and recovery efforts could soon increase by tenfold or more.
Air Force Maj. Gen. James Witham told reporters Tuesday that there were currently about 3,500 National Guard troops involved, including about 3,000 from the Texas National Guard. He estimated that the Texas guard number could rise to 8,000 to 10,000 in coming days, possibly joined by 20,000 to 30,000 from other states.
Some areas have been hit with more than 120 cm of rain, and more is expected.
Harvey has already set a new continental U.S. record for rainfall from a tropical system. A weather station southeast of Houston reported 125.27 cm of rain as of Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service. That broke the previous record of 122 cm set in 1978 in Medina, Tex., by Tropical Storm Amelia.
Two reservoirs near Houston were beginning to overflow. Water was released to alleviate pressure on dams, which added to flooding.
Neighbourhoods in Houston sit underwater as a record-breaking 125 centimetres of rain fell from Tropical Storm Harvey as of early Tuesday.
President Donald Trump, with first lady Melania, holds up a Texas flag after meeting supporters in Corpus Christi on Tuesday. his first visit to the state since the storm hit.